County administrator salaries compared

WORTHINGTON -- In less than two weeks, Nobles County commissioners will meet with each county department head to begin the process of finalizing the 2010 budget.

Administrator Salaries Chart
County administrators' salaries compared.

WORTHINGTON -- In less than two weeks, Nobles County commissioners will meet with each county department head to begin the process of finalizing the 2010 budget.

As that date nears, county departments continue to scour expenses and revenues to meet a request commissioners made on June 30 -- that each department cut 10 to 15 percent from its budget in the coming year.

Late last week, a schedule was circulated to department heads regarding the time of their presentation before the board. That schedule did not include a time for County Administrator Mel Ruppert to present the county administration's budget -- a fact that did not go unnoticed by at least two departments.

Following Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting, Diane Thier said she expects the administration department to also cut its budget, reiterating that Nobles County commissioners did not give themselves a pay increase this year because of an expected loss in state aid funding.

That said, the Daily Globe researched the county's contract with Ruppert and contacted several other counties in southwest Minnesota of similar size to Nobles County.


Ruppert's most recent employment agreement with Nobles County dates back to Dec. 9, 2004. Since then, there have been two amendments to the contract -- one approved on July 1, 2006, which the Globe has not yet received, and an amendment dated Dec. 1, 2008.

Public information obtained through the Nobles County Auditor's Office shows Ruppert's current salary at $108,472 per year. In addition, he receives $300 every other week for use of his personal car for county business, even though county cars are available for his use. Ruppert also receives a cell phone package through the county, being reimbursed $50 every other week, regardless of how many minutes he uses.

When the second amendment to his employment agreement took effect on Dec. 1, 2008, Ruppert was essentially allowed to convert up to 30 days annual leave to cash, or as a contribution to deferred compensation annually. That amendment was signed by then-board chair Thier and vice-chair Vern Leistico.

The Daily Globe has received copies of pay requests made by Ruppert dated Dec. 15, 2008, and Jan. 12, 2009, in which he requested to convert 188 hours and 80 hours, respectively, to cash. Between the two requests, the county issued him checks totaling nearly $13,627 within the one-month timeframe. That is in addition to his salary.

When copies of the pay requests were shown to current County Board chairman David Benson, he said he was unaware of the payments made to Ruppert.

The pay requests have been a source of contention among some county employees, who are no longer able to convert annual leave into cash.

Comparing salaries

Copies of employment agreements or explanations of benefits were obtained by the Daily Globe from several other counties in southwest Minnesota, including Rock County, which has Joint Powers agreements with Nobles County in both public health and community corrections.


Other counties, similar in population size to Nobles County, that supplied data included Lyon County (Marshall), Martin County (Fairmont) and Brown County (New Ulm).

While Nobles County has a smaller population (20,365 according to 2008 census figures) than Martin, Lyon and Brown counties, its county administrator is the highest paid of the four. Ruppert has been an employee of Nobles County since Dec. 29, 1980, when he was hired as court administrator. In January 1994 he became the county coordinator, and on Dec. 31, 1995 he was named the county administrator.

In Lyon County, administrator Loren Stomberg has been at the helm since Aug. 13, 2003. He receives an annual salary of $86,500 in a county with a 2008 census population of 24,844. Stomberg does not have use of a county car for travel and is reimbursed at the IRS mileage rate of 55 cents per mile to drive his own vehicle. He uses a cell phone for work when necessary, but said he does not bill the county for any of those charges.

Brown County Administrator Charles Enter earns an annual salary of $93,700 and is paid an additional $2,558 per year as the county's Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) director. The latest census figures show Brown County with a population of 25,862.

Enter, who has been employed with Brown County since Nov. 1, 1997, gets a minimal cell phone allowance from the county. As for vehicle allowance, he also receives the IRS mileage rate of 55 cents per mile when driving his personal vehicle for county business.

Martin County, with a population of 20,435, is set up a little bit differently in that it has a county coordinator. Scott Higgins has served the county in that role since March 1999, earning a salary of $79,539.

A county coordinator doesn't have as much authority as a county administrator in that the county commissioners may be directly involved in hiring department heads. At the same time, Higgins said he compiles the county's budget, handles human resources issues, union negotiations and carries out any directives and functions of the county board.

In addition to his salary, Higgins has use of a county car, which he is encouraged to use at all times by the county. In the event a car isn't available, he may use his own and be reimbursed at the IRS level of 55 cents per mile. As for cell phone, Higgins said the county pays for the actual expenses of his cell phone, and it can be used for county business only.


Rock County, population 9,476, was also selected for this comparison because it borders Nobles County to the west and because the two counties work closely together on a couple of Joint Powers agreements. Kyle Oldre has worked in Rock County since May 3, 1993, serving first as personnel director and then county coordinator before becoming administrator.

Oldre earns an annual salary of $86,700, which includes his role as the county's emergency management director. As for additional benefits, he receives mileage reimbursement of 50.5 cents per mile when he uses his personal car for work and receives $140 per month to maintain not only a county cell phone, but two radios for his position with emergency management. The radios include one portable and one in his vehicle.

Commissioners evaluate contract

Benson said commissioners conduct an annual evaluation with Ruppert, during which each of the board members complete a form on the administrator's job performance. Those forms are compiled and reviewed with Ruppert, just like a department head would do with a county employee.

With the budget situation this year, Benson assured the Daily Globe that Ruppert's contract would be looked at.

"I would venture to say that we're going to look at everything," Benson said. "We're going to look at all department (budgets). It's a big deal the kind of cuts we're facing this year.

"To me, everything should be on the table," he added.

When asked about the mileage and cell phone reimbursements Ruppert receives, Benson suggested that perhaps there should be a log of the amount of miles the administrator drives.


"Mel does a lot of driving -- he goes to a lot of meetings," Benson said.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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